As the diabetes epidemic grows around the world, so does the number of people who have to take part in its time-consuming daily rituals, including constant finger-pricks to monitor blood sugar. This week, Google announced that it's working on a "smart" contact lens that can measure the amount of glucose in tears. If it works, the lens could be the beginning of a finger prick-free future.
In a blog post, project collaborators Brian Otis and Babak Parviz describe the technology—regular soft contact lens material containing a mini glucose sensor and small wireless chip:
We’re testing prototypes that can generate a reading once per second. We’re also investigating the potential for this to serve as an early warning for the wearer, so we’re exploring integrating tiny LED lights that could light up to indicate that glucose levels have crossed above or below certain thresholds.
This is still far from commercialization. Google says that it's in discussions with the FDA, but is still looking for partners to help take the lens to market. Plus, as Re/code points out, it's not yet certain that tears are even a consistent indicator of blood glucose levels.
Others are also looking at alternatives to the finger prick, including glucose measures from breath and saliva. A company called Freedom Meditech, for example, is working on a small device that can measure glucose levels with an eye scan.
But there's certainly room for as much product innovation as possible. More than 8% of the U.S. population is diabetic, and finger-pricking is painful and annoying enough that people often neglect to do it as much as they should. A smart contact lens or saliva monitor would make it significantly easier to watch out for uncontrolled blood sugar levels, which ultimately lead to serious health complications.